Legislative leaders from both political parties say they’re staying out of the fray when it comes to deciding whether four communities should be allowed to host new, state-licensed casinos.
Governor Chet Culver said this morning that the Racing and Gaming Commission should award new casino licenses to Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, Tama and Larchwood in far northwest Iowa. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs isn’t following suit.
“I have always felt the need for the legislature to stay out of direct discussions. Let the Racing and Gaming Commission do this,” Gronstal said late this morning. “If we get to the place where the legislature’s going to decide how many and where the licenses are going to be, I think that’s a very messy place.”
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines said the “long-standing” position of the Iowa House is to “defer” to the commission to make the decision. As for whether Culver should have publicly lobbied the Racing and Gaming Commission to approve the four license applications: “Well, that’s up the governor and certainly have no problem with him weighing in on that,” McCarthy said.
House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha voiced the common reaction of many. “I don’t know why he’d get in the middle of that process,” Paulsen said. “…I’m actually most surprised he’d wade into the board’s decision.”
Paulsen blasted Culver for not intervening like this with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission when it was considering Alliant’s plan to build a power plant in Marshalltown. “You know, if he wanted to interject himself into a process where there’s a board, he should have done it when we were looking at that plant in Marshalltown,” Paulsen said. “His appointees killed a $1.3 billion investment and hundreds of jobs and to compare those with what he’s doing now, that just irritates me.”
According to Paulsen, the jobs at the power plant would have been better than new casino jobs. Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton agreed.
“I don’t believe that gambling is long term, sustainable economic development,” McKinley said. “That said, those communities that do have casinos have seen some benefit, but that isn’t the way you build a lasting, sustainable economy. It can be a sugar high in some areas, but we need real jobs — manufacturing jobs, hopefully — that will bring wealth and growth to the state of Iowa and we’ve seen absolutely no talk about that.”
Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat, was the only legislative leader who suggested the Racing and Gaming Commission should consider the economic impact that new casinos might have on existing casinos.
“I hope the commission follows the administrative rules and the statue as far as cannibalizing or taking into where local casinos are now located and what effect the outcome might be, but that’s strictly their decision,” Kibbie said. “I agree with Mike (Gronstal) and the others that it’s out of our hands.” Kibbie is from Emmetsburg, home to the state-licensed Wild Rose Casino.